Clerical abuse in Ireland ‘an open wound that has never been able to heal’ admits Archbishop Eamon Martin

Irish Independent [Dublin, Ireland]

December 18, 2022

By Rodney Edwards

Church leader supports criminal prosecutions — and church should be open to official inquiries

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has said he is “deeply ashamed” of the horrific sexual abuse inflicted on children by members of the Spiritan Order . More than 300 people have claimed to have been abused by 78 Spiritan priests at Blackrock College and other schools and colleges in Ireland dating back to the 1980s.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Archbishop Eamon Martin said clerical abuse in Ireland “is like an open wound that has never been able to heal”.

“There is no doubt, I am ashamed,” he said. “I am horrified because of the impact of that childhood trauma and how it has hugely impacted how people view the church and their own personal faith.”

He said attempts by the church in the past “to avoid scandal by not speaking about what has happened have rebounded and created even more scandal”.

Brothers David and Mark Ryan were the first people to openly speak about abuse at the south Dublin school in a recent RTÉ documentary.

From the ages of 12 to 17, David, who is now 58, and Mark (61) were repeatedly sexually abused at various locations on the grounds of the college founded in 1860 by the Spiritans It is described as one of the most “exclusive schools in Ireland”.

“There is no question: hearing directly from survivors, you can never fail but to be very deeply moved,” Archbishop Martin said.

“The fact that David and Mark have been brave and courageous meant many others have been triggered to come forward at this point.

“Trauma such as this manifests itself very differently.

“When victims do come forward there are common themes and hallmarks that come across. ‘Will I be believed?’ for example, because maybe they were not believed or have been frustrated by legal processes.”

He talked about the need for victims to have “hope” and “atonement” — but what about justice?

“Absolutely, if an abuser is alive victims are completely entitled to seek criminal prosecutions,” the Archbishop said.

Former taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed an inquiry to examine allegations of abuse at schools run by the Spiritans will take place and an independent group would engage with survivors of abuse at schools and institutions decades ago. “Victims and survivors need to have a strong input into an inquiry, we need to be open to whatever request they make,” the Archbishop said.

Asked how confident he was that children are not being abused by priests today, he said the church has put in place “extensive safeguarding protocols and procedures which are led entirely by committed lay people”.

“I think the Catholic Church in Ireland — and we are only this way from the bitter past and terrible record — would be seen as a leader in best practice in safeguarding,” he said.

However, he added the church could “never be complacent because very sadly we know that, in the church and society, those who want to abuse children will find new ways of doing so, whether it is online or other ways they can be disguised. It is true to say that for a long time abusers in the church in Ireland were able to get away with abuse. I would like to think that people cannot get away with abuse these days.”

Amid the fallout over the Spiritans abuse scandal, there are some who have questioned the link between church and school but Archbishop Martin said removing the role of faith in the education sector “would be wrong”.

However, he admitted: “We also need to accept that not all parents wish their children to be brought up in a particular denomination in a school setting.

“In a small number of cases, what we are finding is that parents are opting out of first communion and confirmation because they themselves know their children are not being raised in their Catholic faiths.

“Even in Co Armagh, there would be a number of schools that maybe have less than 50pc of the class who are not getting their first communion.”​

Since war broke out in Ukraine in February, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has been working to secure funding of more than €230,000 for church projects for the benefit of thousands of Ukrainian refugees coming to Ireland.

These projects include working jointly with the Irish Red Cross and county councils to upgrade parochial houses to provide appropriate accommodation to Ukrainian families.

“Churches have been opening suitable accommodation for refugees and there are many refugees who are residing in what were religious properties such as old convents and parochial homes,” Archbishop Martin said. “But there are still old church buildings that could be appropriately equipped for refugees.”

Following dedicated collections at masses throughout the country, €4,532,265 has been raised to date for charitable projects to assist refugees and people remaining in Ukraine.

“People coming here from Ukraine have shown such warmth, so it is important that we show that compassion too,” he said.

In October, 10 people lost their lives in an explosion at a filling station in Creeslough, Co Donegal.

They were: James O’Flaherty (48); Jessica Gallagher (24); Martin McGill, (49); Catherine O’Donnell (39) and her son James Monaghan (13); Hugh Kelly (59); Martina Martin (49); Robert Garwe (50) and his daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe (5); and Leona Harper (14).

Visiting the scene a couple of days later was “an emotional experience” for Archbishop Martin, who met many of the emergency first responders.​

“The emotions were brought about first of all from the tragedy and the scale of the loss of life in a small rural community,” he said.

“They were also of admiration of the response that was happening on the ground and the incredible outreach of people wanting to help.

“I was also very deeply moved by the efforts of the local parish and the local priests and clergy of all denominations.”

But how did visiting a community grieving such unimaginable loss make him feel on a purely human level?

“I shed a tear more than once during that day and on the way home and afterwards when I was reflecting on it,” the Archbishop said.

Last week, the song Do They Know It’s Christmas? — the Band Aid charity song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure from 1984 — came on the radio.

It made Archbishop Martin think about why Christmas may not bring comfort to many people this year.

“I think about the tragedies like Creeslough. I think of the two young boys, Joseph Sebastian and Reuven Simon, who drowned in Enagh Lough in Derry back in September. I think of the family of Private Seán Rooney and the other Irish Defence Forces out in Lebanon following the tragedy there last week.”

He said Christmas was “often associated with beautiful words” in carols such as Joy to the WorldDing Dong Merrily on High and Silent Night with the latter’s lyrics including “all is calm / all is bright”.

“But I am very conscious this Christmas that either because of the cost of living, the refugees from Ukraine living among us, or families who have experienced awful tragedies during the year, it is difficult for them to find the joy, the comfort and the peace at Christmas,” he said. “My prayer this year is that all of us pause and reflect on what we have and the things we sometimes take for granted and the people we take for granted.”